Let me admit right up front that I am aging and that everyone around me is aging. In fact, the whole human race is aging – those in utero and those approaching or passing the 100 year mark. And lest I get too caught up in the human thing, a clergy friend reminded me today that the mountains, redwoods, aspens, and bacteria are also aging…along with the stars and the expanding universe. But there is cosmic aging and the more up-close-and-personal aging. And the immediate, friends-and-family, right-in-your-face-until-you-feel-really-overwhelmed aging is getting a little bit out of control in my humble opinion.
In the last year and a half, I broke my wrist in a spectacular fall down a flight of stairs which (by the grace of God) did not also break my neck; three friends have had brain surgery for tumors (both benign and malignant); 12 colleagues and other folks in my e-mail address book have experienced 8 different cancers; very early on-set dementia has claimed the mind of a fellow church-member; one friend lost his hearing to an ear infection he didn’t even know he had; a half-dozen people have had either hip or knee replacement…and that is before I get to two degrees of separation. The precious fragility of life is front and center. Mortality is front and center. Being broken is front and center.
And, because not one of us is whole, health care is front and center.
So, not surprisingly, I have been pondering the Affordable Care Act. After paying little or no attention to this as something that might actually have a personal impact on them, well over half the people I know in my decade (the one between 55 and 65) are suddenly waking up to the fact that this piece of legislation makes it possible for them to look toward the future with some assurance that they will not lose their home (or their ability to put a roof over their head) and their entire retirement savings to one catastrophic illness or accident. And, in case you think you may be immune to this situation, it turns out that breaking a wrist is a catastrophic event in the 21st century USA unless you routinely make a salary in the high six figures. The entire bill from the moment I entered an emergency room until 8 weeks later when I completed physical therapy was somewhat in excess of $70,000.
If you have been awake in the States over the past, oh, three years or so, you cannot help being aware that our conversation as a nation about the ACA has been on a level that defies all claims that the voters of this country are adults. Had I spoken to anyone the way most of the media has been speaking to one another (or about the President) during my formative years, my parents would have given me a time out lasting the better part of 6 months. And, frankly, the rhetoric and vitriol baffle me. Let me say it again: not one of us is whole. So why are we talking about this as a form of ‘insurance’ that only some of us may need? Health care isn’t ‘insurance’. Insurance is something you buy ‘in case’ something relatively unpredictable and unusual happens (a house fire, a flood, an earthquake).
There is nothing unpredictable about being broken. It is a given for anything animate or inanimate that exists in time.
So maybe it is time we looked at health care as a common good in the same way we used to look at education. The truth is, everyone is better off if we are all at peak health – whatever peak can be for the individual. In good health, we are less anxious and less stressed (and we could really use a little less anxiety and stress in the public square!), we are more creative and productive, we are able to learn effectively and participate fully…and we require less reactive (expensive) health care.
I would like to propose that if one lives in a universe where everything gets bruised and broken eventually, then (dare I say it?) universal health care is a form of herd immunity which protects even those who are most at risk and least able to tolerate invasive procedures or potent medications.
As someone who sees paying taxes as a spiritual discipline [The Spirituality of Taxes], caring for the health of my neighbors is very close to my favorite use of those taxes. Speaking as someone who has been (literally) broken more than once and has needed patching and healing, I hope health is a favorite use of tax money for others, too.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photo © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC
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